As much of a letdown as this season has been, and has continued to be since the All-Star break, there is one bright spot. One guard who wasn’t even considered for the All-Star team, and rightfully so, has resurged his season the past few weeks and is making a case for the best scorer in the NBA. While others may be putting up more points per game or have higher individual scoring performances, Zach LaVine is making a strong case for the best pure bucket-getter, and here’s proof.
“Put The Ball In The Basket”
Newly acquired Patrick Beverley has been a refreshing sense of support and accountability for a locker room that’s been shaky all season long. While he and Nikola Vucevic’s exchange seemed to have a bit of flare, other interactions have been equally as passionate on the positive side. The best example of that is the scoring evolution of Zach LaVine since Beverley’s signing.
“The ones that want to be great, they respond well to it,” Beverley said, “Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Anthony Edwards, I played with James Harden, Kawhi Leonard. I can get in their face and tell them, ‘Hey man, put the ball in the basket.’ And they respond well. And the guys who don’t aren’t the greats. I’m excited for that challenge and LaVine is also.”Patrick Beverley on Zach LaVine via NBC Chicago
Zach LaVine’s midseason turnaround cannot be understated. In November, he averaged a measly 20.5 points per game on less than 40% from the field and 31% from three-point territory. He was only getting to the free-throw line 3.8 times per game, making 82% of his attempts. LaVine only had two games of 50% or better from three-point land and only had one outing of 30 or more points.
Turn the calendar to February, when LaVine averaged 25.5 points per contest on 52% from the field and 35% from beyond the three-point arc. His free throw attempts nearly doubled to 7.1 per game, and his efficiency increased to making 86% from the charity stripe. He also had four games of 30 or more points, three of which were 35 or more point outings. Safe to say, he’s all the way back to his max contract-worthy, two-time All-Star, one of the league’s top-scoring versions of himself.
Stacking Up Against The Whole League
Of players who have played in five or more games since the All-Star break, LaVine ranks fifth in points per game with 30.7. He also sits third in overall points scored in that span, which is where the debating begins. He is only behind Damian Lillard and Joel Embiid, who each attempt 6.0 and 2.2 more shot attempts per game, respectively. LaVine also nearly shoots 59% from the field, whereas Lillard is only 46%, and Embiid is 53%. The Bulls’ shooting guard also shoots over 10% better from the three-point line than either of the two names ahead of him and has fewer turnovers than either one as well. From an efficiency standpoint, LaVine may be in his own category for this post-All-Star tear he’s on.
Over his last seven games since Beverley’s straightforward advice, LaVine has dropped two 40-point outings, he’s gone 50% or better from the field in every game but one, and splashed home three or more three-point makes on 50% or better shooting in four of the seven possible games. Turns out that having a true point guard on the roster may have affected Zach LaVine the most drastically. He’s only .2 points per game away from passing DeMar DeRozan as the team’s top scorer.
Can Zach LaVine’s scoring alone drag this team to the playoffs? The 4-3 record since the break would suggest otherwise, but it certainly helps them stay in games until crunch time. Of their three defeats, two came late by way of Toronto and Indiana’s heroics in the final minutes, and the third was Kevin Durant’s second game with the Phoenix Suns, where Chicago just looked outmatched.
With 16 games left, the Bulls will need his elite scoring to continue as five of their next six opponents are current playoff teams, and sitting only one game back from a Play-In Tournament berth, a winning streak of three or more games could seal their spot in the NBA Playoffs. For all the negative energy surrounding the Windy City, the best scorer in the league has quietly been ramping it up a notch, and it’s not going unnoticed.